Yesterday I went to the ‘Life Celebration’ of a young man who had dropped dead at the age of 29. It was an amazing exhibition of strong faith in the face of adversity and a huge tribute to the difference he had made to so many people in his sadly shortened life as he worked for the kingdom of God. The local Anglican church was standing room only and a number of senior Elim church leaders paid their respects: the hearts of his nearest and dearest were poured out in letters along with multiple family photographs in a specially produced brochure… it could not have been a more honouring send-off. I was there because I knew his mother, an old friend I used to pray with regularly: I really felt for her, just wanted to give her a hug and let her know I care… I suppose I wonder if next time it might be me who loses a son.
But this was quite a different situation to ours – the suddenness with no chance to prepare. They probably wrestle even more with the WHY? question – someone mentioned it in passing – but the whole community of faith of which they are a key part has a way of rising up together to worship God in spite of that: they are faith heroes who don’t get knocked off course by something like this. They know their son is in heaven now and all is well – except for the loss and pain and fatherless children left behind… there is so much to work through in the coming weeks, months and years. But ‘hallelujah!’ – he lived his life well, he sowed his seed, he used his gifts, he will see much fruit and get his reward.
No mention was made of the fact that this young man was grossly obese and died because his heart just couldn’t carry his body around anymore – how could they? Blame would be of no help and it’s years too late now to do anything about it… but surely that is also part of the law of ‘sowing and reaping’. It made me wonder how God really feels about it – whether He is sad too, because perhaps this death was unnecessary – and whether He could have intervened to prevent it in some way or actually matters had been taken out of His Hands, things were just too far gone… At times like this can we say ‘it was God’s will’?
Does that sound heretical? They are just real and honest tensions and ‘what ifs’: I admit I live in this twilight zone quite a lot. His ways are higher than our ways – ours not to question why… but surely there are lots of situations around us that happen that are not His Will – why else would we be told to specifically ask for His Will to Be Done? He is good but bad things happen – we live in a fallen world: our hope is that in the end it will all turn out right, but meanwhile it’s a battleground and ‘we groan and are burdened’. What we can always be 100% sure of is that Jesus knows the feeling!
So it’s probably better to accept we just can’t know the answers to such questions – best just to trust the Lord and walk through whatever comes our way trusting He walks with us as our Comforter and Deliverer and He will turn it ALL for good – especially our failures! We have to live in the place of ‘not knowing’ – that’s what faith is all about. YET… we do also have responsibility for our choices, we have been sent out into the world to use the ‘talents’ He has given to each of us in whatever way we can and we will all reap whatever we have sown. Our lives are about a partnership and journey with God: narrow gate or broad gate? straight path or wide path?
Such shocking events are bound to be upsetting and challenging to all who are connected to them. I mentioned my own wry thought, ‘Next time it could be me’ to a visiting friend: his response was clear and kind: “That is not going to happen to you, Sal – Sam is not meant to die”. He has faith and I appreciate that, am encouraged by that… but perhaps Matt wasn’t ‘meant to die’ just then either! I want to believe Sam will live many productive years of course – I am glad I can hitch a ride on the convictions of others – I just don’t know what the Lord will do, what the cancer will do, what the various forms of so-called ‘treatment’ and choices he is making will do… I just don’t know. I won’t blame anyone for the position they take on it – I just want to have integrity in holding the tensions together and not manufacture a feeling of faith at the expense of facing reality. My faith is in the goodness of the Lord – just like that dear family yesterday – not in Sam’s healing. All we can say is ‘our times are in Your Hands’… and get over our fear of death!
This is really the crux of the matter – do we see death in the same way that God does?! If Jesus has broken it’s power and removed it’s sting and we believe in Him… as Paul says, it is better to go and be with the Lord! But letting go of this life is such a hard thing to do, even for believers. How many of us are like the Celtic hero Aidan, who asked to be taken home to heaven and was told he had to stay another 4 years to finish his work? 4 years later home he went! ‘The Lord will fulfil His purpose for me; Your love, O LORD, endures for ever – do not abandon the works of your hands. Psalm 138v8. That is my prayer for Sam’s life – however long or short it may be.
Sin and sickness come to rob and destroy us, and obviously being robbed of all the Lord wants to do in and through us is only counter-productive – that cannot be God’s best for us! We can see that humankind is captive to the enemy in so many areas – no wonder we get angry and declare war in prayer! Taking our stand in partnership with the Spirit, working to set the prisoners free is what the kingdom is all about – I am all for that. But apart from warning us about the evil one, Jesus’ wisdom about why bad things happen points us away from seeing direct consequences between sin and punishment:
‘Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them— do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Then he told this parable: A man had a fig-tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ Luke 13v1-9
He just says that we are all in the same boat and we all need saving! He tells us He is looking for fruit in our lives – and if He doesn’t find any, He will give us more time and encouragement… but not forever! As Delirious sing, ‘Every soul needs a Saviour’ – our lives are given to us that we may find Him, that we may then truly live… It’s not a question of how many years we have, but of what we do with them.
So a young man of 29 has gone to that eternal life having made his choice – and despite my reservations on the prematurity of the departure, maybe it was like with Enoch, ‘He walked with God and he was not for God took him’ Genesis 5v24. Also there is that extraordinary verse, ‘precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints’ Psalm 116v15! It seems God likes having His family with Him in heaven! I read 2 stories in a book called ‘Megashift’ that made the same point – crazy stories which you may find hard to believe, but are apparently witnessed and proved true! In another part of the world a 12 year old child died, but during her funeral sat up alive again saying Jesus had sent her back for 24 hours to tell them all He is real! Sure enough, 10am the next morning she died again. In another case a 17 year old girl came back to life and went round all the local villages for a week preaching the gospel before she ‘went back to heaven’. These girls saw many turn to Jesus because of the resurrection miracles – but despite their young age they didn’t hang around here afterwards. Clearly long life is not always the Lord’s purpose and dying young is not always a bad thing!
‘Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God of deliverances; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death’. Psalm 68v19-20
I love this verse and will gladly apply it whenever someone has a lucky escape in an accident or illness 🙂 Of course we all want to live and want our friends and family to live – right here where we can see and enjoy them! Long life and happiness! It was wonderful recently when a young friend was SO close to death after having clots in his lungs from a thrombosis in a broken leg – and yet he miraculously came back from the brink, even though his heart had been stopped for so long and damaged, called back by the petitions of many all over the world: he is enjoying his wife and young daughter more than ever before – and they him! And another dear friend of mine in the US broke her back in a riding accident – she could have died, could have been paralysed – but after very clever and complicated major surgery and lots of prayer is on the slow road to recovery. She too had pulmonary embolii and breathing problems post-op, she too survived those harbingers of death that suddenly stop their victims breathing… but it seems for Phil and Elizabeth their ‘time’ has not yet come.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children Psalm 103v13-17
Here again we have the juxtaposition of the grace and gentleness of God bearing with us weak mortals and showing us mercy – and then, taking the longer view, our all too quick demise… We are mortal, though in our pride of life we often try to forget it! Sam’s old friend from Queens Medical Centre, who was in the bed next to him when he had his biopsy operation can no longer escape his end: his brain tumour has grown back with a vengeance and he has lost the use of his left side. Rupert will soon go to sleep for good, at the age of 30. We will miss him… another young man, taken too soon, whose memory will live on in his friends and family. Lord, please take him to your home!
I don’t really get anywhere, writing about all this… I just have to do it every so often to get it out of my system! Over 2000 words that go round in circles saying let’s have faith, but let’s also be real – let’s acknowledge God is good, but let us mourn the sadness and the suffering in this world, let’s be glad for those who are delivered from the grave and let’s allow our own mortality to shape our lives…
Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep – and know that your redemption is near.